About 3 hours flight from Madrid, and less than 100 miles from the Western Sahara, the Canary Islands break majestically from the crystal blue Atlantic.
Year round, but especially when weather turns chilly elsewhere, Gran Canaria, the central and second most populous of the island chain, draws throngs of sun-loving vacationers.
Over the centuries, many European nations have sought after the island’s rugged cliffs of volcanic rock and soft sand beaches. Today, Gran Canaria sits under the Spanish crown, but island affairs are run by an autonomous regional government in operation since 1982.
Catering to tourists is the primary business, with shop vendors and restaurateurs coming out to draw potential customers who stroll by. Multilingual tour operator man booths near central harbors and beaches, and try to guess which language you speak to sell trips, and hand out brochures. Walk into Spar, a local grocery store, and you’ll find a mixture of products labeled in various languages.
- Lang: Spanish, English
- Currency: EUR, euro
- Time zone: GMT +0 h
- Tel. country code: +34
Simply put — Locals know their market. According to statistics, the highest percentage of tourists come from Germany, The United Kingdom, Spain, and the Scandinavian countries.
Tourists shops line the harbors selling items such as t-shirts, magnets, jewelry, sunglasses, imitation designer bags and electronics, beach towels, and postcards. For mall-style shops such as Mango, Zara, and Lacoste, it’s worth a visit to Centro Comercial Atlántico in the town of Vecindario, situated between Playa del Inglés and Las Palmas. Visa, Master card, and Euros are accepted means of payment.
Playas on Gran Canaria? Playa, meaning beach in Spanish, is a fitting word for the island, where especially in the South, the baking sun and desert heat call to sun worshipers.
With its proximity to Morocco, 84˚F (28˚C) in October is no surprise. When it’s time for a break, cool relief is also within easy reach. Bathers enjoy pleasant ocean breezes that sweep the coast, and water temperature that reach 71˚F (22˚C) in fall.
Several communities dot the rocky southern coastline, each connected by a paved, winding road. The rows of alabaster white hotels and resorts seem to defy gravity, built into craggy cliffs speckled with king palms and clumping cacti. Beaches, except at Playa del Cura, have imported Saharan sand, with umbrellas and sun chairs for the public.
Where to Stay, and Play
If you prefer a slow-paced holiday, book accommodations in Puerto de Mogán, a Mediterranean-styled fishing village with quaint homes accented by colorful flower boxes and garden trellises.
Swim in the sheltered cove, or try activities such as jet skiing, sailing, glass-bottom boat trips, or deep sea fishing excursions. Afterwards, order a refreshing fresa (strawberry) juice and a tapa or two at one of the dining establishments found along the harbor.
For a private setting, reserve at Playa del Cura, and enjoy the half moon natural beach of black, volcanic sand and stones. Before settling with a good book, take a swim in the cool waves, or watch small armies of black crabs scurry among the rock pools. From the sand on nearby La Playa de Tauro, you can walk to neighboring Amadores beach by a rude, gravel path running parallel to the road.
The community of Playa Amadores, noted for it’s creamy white sand and turquoise water, is as picturesque as the postcards suggest. Sun chairs encircle the harbor, including along the rocky, L-shaped pier. Bathers can try the floating climbing wall and obstacles, or rent jet skis or kayaks for the afternoon.
For an activity-filled day, head for Puerto Rico. In the ship harbor, you’ll find everything from sailing and 2-3 hour dolphin safari trips to glass-bottom boat cruises or speedboat rides. Windsurfing, jet ski, or mini fun-car rental is also available.
Beside the harbor tourist shops, you’ll find a dive center that rents equipment, and runs package trips to a man made shipwreck. For the kids, visit the central park with 2 public swimming pools, and a mini-golf course near the bus depot. Aqua Park, a water park with slides, is found behind the main shopping center.
If you wish to take a walk or jog, try the beautiful 1 1/4 mile path along the seawall between Amadores and Puerto Rico. The route, lined with giant cacti and bushy orange and pink bougainvillea flowers, is perfect, too, for snapping photos. To reach the sea, descend the spiral metal stair to the wide, smooth stones and a nearby inlet of clear, turquoise water.
When the sun sets, find yourself in Puerto Rico, where the nightclubs and bars keep things hot. Dance at Fibber Magee’s or Disco Jokers, or chill at one of the many restaurant bars beside the harbor. For a bigger party scene, head to Kasbah, Metropole, or Plaza in Playa del Inglés. Gay nightlife happens at the wildly popular Yumbo Centre.
When planning your evenings out, don’t forget the island sits in the GMT time zone (the same as UK time).
Buses connect all communities, with bus lines 1 and 91 (Express) making stops at the Las Palmas airport. Without traffic, it’s roughly one hour to travel from the furthest community of Puerto de Mogán to Las Palmas. Hold onto your seat! Hurried drivers take turns and tunnels quickly on the narrow roadways.